General Jonathan Moulton : The Man and the Legend
Old Home Day
1638 - Town of Hampton - 1962
By Stillman M. Hobbs
Fact has been so mingled with fancy concerning the life of General Jonathan Moulton that for years the fanciful tales were handed down from generation to generation and magnified with the telling, while the facts of the man's life and accomplishments have been largely obscured or neglected.
Legend has it that Moulton sold his soul to the Devil for a boot full of gold. Having made the bargain with the Evil One, the old General cheated him by cutting off the sole of the boot so that the gold pieces poured into it would never quite fill it no matter how much was poured. Thus the Devil was frustrated and Moulton received much more than the bootful of gold. It is quite possible that the local citizenry concocted this tale because Moulton was a man of great reserve and, as the historian (Joseph) Dow says, of "lofty bearing" in his dealing with the townsfolk. Furthermore, his shrewd business practices which resulted in the accumulation of considerable wealth and property probably aroused the envy and dislike of many people.
Another story, widely accepted, was that after death, the ghosts of the General and his wife appeared at night in the house where they had lived. Credulous people believed that their return could be verified by the sounds they heard, Moulton thumping the floor with his big gold-headed cane and his wife moving about in her rustling silk gown. Because of the wide circulation of this tale, the fine house in which the General lived was referred to locally as the "haunted house". In the popular mind, Moulton was considered as evil because of his alleged compact with the Devil and his nocturnal reappearances which plagued the serenity of the townsfolk.
The facts of General Moulton's life are far from prosaic and his accomplishments were considerably more than ordinary. He was descended from John Moulton who came to Hampton with Stephen Bachiler in 1638. Although Moulton was probably the wealthiest man in Hampton, owning slaves, running a prosperous store, and engaging in many land enterprises, he found the time and energy to transact public affairs. His ability was apparently recognized by the citizenry of Hampton since he served for many years as the moderator of town meetings and represented the town in the provincial legislature. In 1778 he was one of Hampton's two delegates sent to Concord to make a new state constitution.
Jonathan Moulton was also recognized for his military prowess. During the long and bloody Indian wars he had served with distinction as a courageous and resourceful fighter.
In 1763 Moulton and sixty-one other men were granted land in the interior of New Hampshire by the Masonian proprietors. Moulton was the head of the grantees, and it was largely through his foresight and enterprise that the town of Moultonborough was founded to forever honor and perpetuate the Moulton name in New Hampshire.
A little later Moulton was granted by Governor Benning Wentworth the land which is now the town of New Hampton. The "Moulton Annals" relates the manner in which the General secured this grant from his great and good friend as follows:
"In 1763 General Jonathan Moulton of Hampton, having an ox weighing one thousand four hundred pounds, fattened for the purpose, hoisted a flag upon his horns, and drove him to Portsmouth as a present to Governor Wentworth.
"The General refused any compensation for the ox, but said he would like a charter of a small gore of land -- adjoining the town of Moultonborough --. The Governor granted this simple request of General Moulton, and he called it New Hampton, in honor of his native town."
During the Revolution, Moulton was an active patriot and soldier. He was moderator of the town meeting which decided what steps to take in opposition to British taxation. He was a member of the local committee of safety and as Colonel he was assigned the responsibility of guarding the coast from possible attack. Colonel Moulton marched to Saratoga in 1777 with men from Hampton and other New Hampshire towns to reinforce the army of General Gates.
Jonathan Moulton had indeed served well and honored Hampton, the town of his birth, had contributed greatly to the settlement and development of New Hampshire, and had willingly and skillfully defended his people and his country in warfare. It is only historic justice that he should be remembered for these things. Let the legends of Devilish compact and the returning ghosts be recognized for what they were -- pure fancy!